The Golden Rule of Exercise

Ever heard the saying “no pain, no gain”?

I bet you have. And when it comes to exercise, I’m here to tell you, this is a big fat lie. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference, different “pain” feelings can mean very different things for your body.

Unfortunately, when it comes to exercise, pain has long been considered a part of the experience. Sore knees, aching backs, bum shoulders that catch, stab, or just don’t move very well anymore… The idea was that if things weren’t hurting, you weren’t working hard enough. Apply this to a different situation: Would you put your hand on a hot stove to make sure you were cooking well enough? Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? You can actually have a far more effective workout when you aren’t hurting, because you will be able to continue to exercise on your regular schedule, and not limp around for three days. So our Golden Rule: No Pain (or, If it hurts, don’t do it).

Feelings of intense exercise should occur in areas powering movement, mainly muscles and/or lungs.

But exercise isn’t always pleasant, and can be downright uncomfortable, especially as intensity increases. The physical sensations that come with intense exercise or physical activity – burning muscles, bursting lungs or shortened breath, or a stitch in the side – are not particularly pleasant at the time. But the “pain” of working hard during exercise should not last. When you stop and rest, these feelings should subside, leaving you pain-free, or at worst, somewhat fatigued. In the days following an intense workout, you may also feel stiff and sore through the muscles, a short-term state known as Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.

Any aches and pains arising during or after exercise that are different than these should be brought up with your doctor or an exercise physiologist ASAP to make sure you stay safe and injury-free. Some of the most common feelings that should prompt this discussing (during or after a workout): joint pain, back pain, pain in areas that may not be related to a workout – anything that seems unusual, really. These are often indicators of tissue damage. Further, if you have a history of injury, or a chronic health condition, you may experience slightly-to-very different feelings during exercise or physical activity than someone who is assumed healthy. If this is the case, definitely talk to your doctor or an exercise physiologist about how to get exercise safely and what to look out for.

Feelings of injury or damage are often felt in joints, and can last for days after activity.

It’s important to distinguish between these two types of pain, because the “pain” of appropriate and/or intense exercise can actually prevent the pain that coincides with tissue damage and long-term aches, pains, and injury by conditioning the body to be better able to respond to physical stress. Next time you’re moving and something isn’t feeling great, take a moment and consider what kind of whether you’re feeling the burn of hard work, or whether you might actually be doing some damage, and then apply the Golden Rule as needed.

In order to move well and stay healthy and injury free, you have to get and stay pain free. Continuing to exercise when you feel pain will likely increase that pain, may create further tissue damage, and make it more difficult to exercise or get through your normal daily activities. In the long run this will be detrimental to your overall health and fitness, mental health, and ability to make progress. All of this makes exercising when you’re in pain a bad idea! So when in doubt, seek help. Better to have an extra appointment and stay safe and feel good, than push through pain until something breaks.


How To Be Nice To Yourself

This is for you, for me, and for anyone else whose brain has them feeling guilty about their day to day choices…

One of the biggest things I see my clients struggle with is the concept that they should be doing more for themselves in order to reach a particular goal. Exercising more or harder, cutting out carbs, drinking less coffee – I hear this stuff all the time, quite often starting with “I really should…” In fact, their battles with these shoulds are a huge reason my clients seek my help in the first place.

I am intimately acquainted with the way should can rule your life. I, too, often feel like I should be working out more. Shouldn’t be eating toast for dinner when I’m too exhausted to even take the healthier leftovers out of the fridge. Should go to my yoga class because I know I’ll be so much less stressed afterward. Should go to bed so I can get some good sleep, but should also stay up to finish this blog post. (You have just seen a snapshot of my day yesterday. I went to bed.)

Does this sound much like you? I think about my day yesterday and I’m frustrated. I think about all the things I should do today, and I feel guilty because I know right now that there are simply not enough hours in the day to tick all my to-do’s off the list. Neither of these feelings are helpful.

It begs the question: Why do we make ourselves feel so bad?

I am not a psychologist, and I don’t have the answer to “why”, but I do have a great solution. At least, it’s a solution that has been very helpful for me. This is something taught to me by my psychologist, a wonderful woman who is helping me keep my brain from making me miserable.

Rather than telling yourself day in and day out that you should be doing X or Y, what happens if say you prefer to do X or Y??

Since we’re all different, I’m not sure if this is a thing that will click with you. I’ll tell you what happened for me, though, when I made that change.

I went from “I really should go running and eat something healthy for lunch” (Subtext: “If I don’t do these things, I’m ruining my life because I’m still not as fit and healthy as I would like to be and I’m going to have to work so much harder to get to that point and I don’t even have the time to do it eeeeever which is the problem in the first place…” with a rock in my stomach and my shoulders up around my ears.)

… To “I would prefer to go running this morning and eat something healthy for lunch” (Subtext: Those things sound great and enjoyable and I’m looking forward to being able to do that…” and my shoulders haven’t felt this relaxed and loose in ages. Even with the knowledge that those things might not happen.)

I lost the stress and tension surrounding the shoulds, simply by allowing myself to NOT be obligated to do them. Instead, by thinking of them as things I would like to do because I enjoy them (or their benefits), I actually look forward to doing them (and if I don’t get them done, it’s no big deal). The reality is that there are a limited number of hours in a day, and some things can’t be multitasked – hard to run and eat at the same time!

Give yourself a break. You might even find you start rocking this life business even more.


Staying Informed About Your Health Care – A How-To List

Going to the doctor or other health care practitioner can be stressful, and it’s easy to feel rushed when you’re at an appointment. It’s quite often “hurry up and wait”, and that pressure can lead us to rush through our part of the visit as well. We worry we’ll seem slow on the uptake if we don’t understand what’s being told to us, or that having questions will make us seem pushy or uncooperative.

It’s totally normal to feel this way – we’ve been brought up with the concept that doctors are busy and important, so who are we to get in the way? It’s important to remember though, that you are uniquely positioned to discuss your health with your doctor, and you have a duty to yourself to take the best care of your body that you can. After all, you’re the only one with the knowledge and experience of living your life, in your body, and how that feels. No one will care more about your life than you!

That’s not to say your doctor doesn’t care about you – they do want the best for you. But when appointment are set 10-15 minutes apart, if you don’t speak up, it can be easy for the doctor to hit the highlights of what’s happening and what they want to do about it. Unfortunately, hitting the highlights can be easy for a doctor with the background knowledge of how a healthy body works, what might be happening with yours, and what can be done to move back towards good health. Take advantage of this knowledge – you’ll find that your doctor is happy to explain things in more detail. You’ll be better informed, and will likely be able to make better choices about your healthcare for years to come. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your doctor’s appointment, though these points apply to any visit with anyone taking part in your health care, including exercise physiologists and personal trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists – you name it!

Come prepared. Whether you have a list of questions or a list of symptoms – no matter how simple, or how complicated – writing these down in the lead up to your appointment will help you make sure you don’t miss anything. This goes even if it’s just a general check-up.

Take notes at your doctor’s appointment. Your doctor went to school for YEARS to simply begin to understand what they are trying to tell you in five minutes. You probably won’t remember everything they are saying, so be a smarty-pants and write it down. Your doctor will be impressed.

Find out in detail what you can expect from a prescription or treatment. If you don’t know what to expect, how will you know if it’s working? Additionally, some treatments and prescriptions can have heavy-duty side effects, and you should be aware of what to look for.

If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Doctors LOVE patients who are actively engaged in their own medical care, and they’ll take more time to explain things and make sure that you understand to your own satisfaction. Don’t hesitate to ask.

Keep track of your treatments, prescriptions, supplements, and surgeries. Don’t count on your medical office to have an up-to-date list, especially if you are seeing multiple health care practitioners. Helping them stay current will help you get better care.

Pay attention to what happens when you do (or don’t) take your prescriptions, supplements, or otherwise follow doctor’s orders.
Taking (or missing) a tablet, an appointment, or a workout may or may not have an immediate effect (and I’m certainly not suggesting you experiment with skipping things you should be doing!) Sometimes we forget things though, and it’s handy to reflect on whether that makes a difference to how you’re feeling in the days after the fact.

Ask your doctor if they have additional materials that can help you understand your condition or treatment. This is especially useful if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a health condition, or have been prescribed a new treatment of some sort. People learn and retain information in a variety of ways. If your doctor can show you a video, give you a booklet with pictures and information, or otherwise find ways to help you understand what’s going on with your body, you’re likely to gain a much better understanding. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Talk to the nurses! The nursing staff is a collective goldmine of experience, and can answer many of your health questions just as well as the doctor. You might have a little more time with a nurse, as well, so you might as well make the most of it.

Bring a second set of ears. If you have someone close enough to share your health information with, it can be handy to have a second set of ears to help absorb information, and they may ask some good questions that you don’t think of.

Find out how to get further information. It can be tough to get all your info in one visit, and Dr. Google is a BAD doctor. Find out who you can get in touch with, and how to do it, if you have additional questions or want more information.

Don’t be afraid to change doctors. There are pros and cons to this – in many ways, it’s great to be working with someone who is deeply familiar with your health history. But if you find that your doc is unwilling to share information, or you’re otherwise unhappy with your care, it’s worth finding someone you click with.

Don’t forget, your doctor actually works for you. Stay healthy, my friends!


Science Answers: Will Vitamins Keep Me Healthy?

Each winter, millions of people come down with the common cold, the flu, or another respiratory illness. Taking vitamins is a traditional remedy, but how well do they really work?

Vitamin Mineral Herbal Supplement for Health and Immune Function

Science actually has a lot to say about this. Whether you are a fan of big pharma or not, vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplementation for health reasons is a booming business, and where there is money to be made, there is also research going on. Unfortunately, the numerous studies produced every year do not exactly compare apples to apples. Different studies may (often) use different strengths and preparations of the supplement in question. Ingredients in different brands sold over-the-counter are not standardized, and there is little to no requirement for quality control (at least in the United States, and in Australia products are only evaluated for safety, not effectiveness).  Different preparations and different brands can even be absorbed differently by the body – you may be taking something just to have it go right through you, so to speak (a doctor friend of mine talks about having very expensive pee). All of this can make it harder to determine whether a given supplement is actually going to help you stay healthy. But it’s better than no science at all, by a long run!

It’s also important to note that your health “starting point” will make a big difference in how well any of these supplements work, if they work at all. If you are deficient in a nutrient, then increasing your intake will almost guarantee you a stronger immune system and healthier body. This also goes for people who are under high levels of physical stress (think lots of exercise or a highly active job). These types of activity can depress your immune system, and recovery from often requires more nutrients than it would otherwise.

Now let’s see what the science has to say about some of the most common cold-fighting vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements.

Vitamin C

Famous for being THE sickness-fighting vitamin, research results on the effectiveness of vitamin C have actually been somewhat controversial, for the reasons mentioned above. In normal healthy people, regular vitamin C supplementation in doses of up to 4g per day has shown a small reduction in the duration and severity of illness. There is not A LOT of evidence that it makes a person any less susceptible to infection in the first place (though there is some). To make matters more confusing, there is no agreement on how much you should take, or how often, for optimal effect. On the whole, the science supports the use of vitamin C, but they aren’t sure how much you actually need.

Zinc

Often sold and/or taken in tandem with vitamin C, large doses of zinc have been shown to prevent viruses from sticking to the mucus membranes of the body (think: sinus cavity) and from replicating. Daily supplementation of zinc in order to prevent colds is not recommended, since long term use can have adverse side effects, including suppressing the immune system – the exact thing you’re taking it to avoid! If you do come down with a cold though, there is evidence that zinc supplements may be useful in decreasing both the duration and severity of the illness. Optimal dose size and frequency have yet to be determined, so stick with the instructions on the packaging.

Echinacea

This is one of the most commonly sold herbal “cold-fighting” supplements. Best-selling does not always mean highly-effective though. A 2015 meta-analysis of research done on echinacea products suggested that some products may be associated with a decreased risk of catching a cold, but that there was little evidence that, once sick, these products would decrease the duration or severity of the illness. Interestingly, the individual studies included in the meta-analysis actually showed no association between supplementation and illness prevention. Another report from the Harvard Medical School agreed that evidence of echinacea fighting colds is weak. It still might work for you – if nothing else, there is always the placebo effect (if reading this didn’t ruin it). Maybe let the buyer beware?

Vitamin D

Vitamin D and sunshine are closely linked (sunlight helps the body produce some vitamin D internally). There is also more and more evidence that vitamin D and immune function are linked. Even people who spend significant time outdoors can be vitamin D deficient (and even in part of the world with great weather), prompting suggestions in some research that regular vitamin D supplementation be used to keep the immune system powered up. Your vitamin D levels can be detected in a blood test, and your doctor can help you determine what dosage is right for you. If you don’t feel like making a trip to the doc especially to get this checked, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D intake is 600 IU per day in both the United States and Canada.

Probiotics

The surprise cold fighter. Many people think of gastrointestinal support when they think of probiotics, and they aren’t wrong. It just so happens that we get a two-for-one with probiotics. Our digestive system is very closely linked to our immune system; much of the bacteria we encounter on a daily basis ends up going through our digestive tract and approximately 70% of the body tissue that secretes immune cells is located along the lining of our gut. Probiotics are actually live microorganisms that help your body out, often thought of as “good” bacteria. You can take them in capsule form, and almost every type of fermented food is rich with them (think: yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, probiotic drinks, etc.).  Regular probiotic intake – whether via food or a specific supplement – has been shown to decrease the risk of catching a cold to begin with, as well as decreasing the duration of illness.

Again, the results of this medical research don’t always give us clear-cut answers. For many supplements, the question of how much to take and how frequently hasn’t been clearly answered. Follow the instructions on the packaging, since each product can differ in strength, preparation, and effectiveness. Also remember that it can be difficult to control for placebo effects. For some people, simply the act of taking anything can be enough to give themselves both a physical and mental boost. And that is nothing to dismiss. If you are generally healthy (without any medical conditions or prescriptions that vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements may interfere with), and you feel even better when you take these things, then by all means, stay healthy!